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Glossary

acidification
The adjustment of acid levels in wine. It is most often implemented in warm-climate regions.

acidity
A key element of wine that is directly related to its structure. It is what gives some wine crispness on the palate. Too much acid will make the wine seem hard or bitter, but too little and the wine will seem flabby.

aftertaste
The flavors that remain in the mouth after the wine is either spat out or swallowed.

apéritif
An alcoholic beverage served before a meal in order to stimulate the appetite.

aroma
Aroma is, quite simply, the smell of a wine. The term is usually used when discussing young wines and the characteristic smell of their grapes.

astringent
Describes the tactile sensation that very tannic or bitter wines will produce in the mouth. Often these wines simply need more time in the bottle.

austere
Refers to wines whose structure is so tight that very little complexity or even flavor will get through to the palate. This is often a characteristic of youth that recedes over time.

balance
The harmony of all the wine’s components: sugar, fruit, acid, tannin, alcohol and wood influence. When one or more of these elements stand out, the wine is deemed “off-balance.”

bite
A term that relates to acidity and tannin. Too much of either will “bite” the palate.

body
Refers to the weight of the wine on the palate. The alcoholic strength of the wine is a significant indicator of whether the wine will be light-, medium- or full-bodied.

Botrytis cinerea
The name of the fungus responsible for “noble rot.”

bouquet
Another term for the smell of a wine. It is used by many to refer specifically to older, bottle-aged wines and their complex, age-derived aromas.

buttery
Describes flavors that are reminiscent of the taste of butter. These are found in white wines, especially Chardonnay.

carbonic maceration
A red wine–making method in which the entire grape cluster is placed in a vat that is completely devoid of oxygen. The grapes then ferment using only yeast found naturally in their skins. As there is little contact between the juice and the skins, the finished wine is very fruity and low in tannin. This is the process used to make Beaujolais Nouveau.

cava
The term used for bottle-fermented sparkling wines from Spain.

cedary or cigar box
A cedar aroma is associated with the oak barrels used for aging wine. This term is most often applied to red wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon.

Champagne
The term for bottle-fermented sparkling wines produced only in the Champagne region of France.

chaptalization
The process by which sugar is added to the must (grape juice) in order to increase the final alcohol level of the wine. All sugars used in this process are fermented into alcohol, thereby having no effect on the sweetness of the finished wine. This practice is common in cool-climate regions.

Charmat or bulk process
A technique used in the production of many sparkling wines. The second fermentation takes place in a tank, instead of in the bottle, as in the traditional method.

château
The French word for a mansion, castle or stately house; on a wine label, it precedes the name of the vineyard that produced the bottle.

chewy
The term used for tannic and full-bodied wines that have a rich and heavy mouth feel.

complexity
The multiple layers of nuanced aromas and flavors that are woven together in a wine, creating a harmonious depth.

corked
Word used to describe the dank, musty smell or taste of the wine affected by a bad cork. It is caused by a compound called trichloroanisole.

crémant
The term used for bottle-fermented sparkling wines made in France, in regions other than Champagne.

cru
A French term that has been translated to mean “growth.” The French use it to mean “vineyard.”

depth
Refers to the richness of flavor in a wine. Do the flavors seem rich and multifaceted, or thin and simple?

dessert wines
Sweet wines generally served after a meal, either by themselves or with a dessert. Examples of dessert wines include: Port, Cream Sherry and Muscatel.

digestif
An alcoholic beverage served at the end of a meal to aid in the digestion of food.

dry
A term that refers to the absence of residual sugar in wine.

earthy
Aromas or flavors that suggest the earth and its elements.

fermentation
The process, through the action of yeast, of converting sugar into alcohol.

filtration
A method that removes particulate matter from wine by passing the liquid through a filtering medium.

fining
A method that removes particulate matter from wine by adding a substance that will bond with the unwanted material, and settle to the bottom of the tank or barrel.

finish
Another term for the aftertaste or length. After the wine is swallowed, do the flavors linger on, or do they dissipate quickly?

flabby
Indicates a wine lacking in acidity.

flinty
The aroma of gun flint, found most often in French Chablis. Directly related to the soils of the region, it is a positive and distinguishing characteristic.

flowery
Refer to aromas reminiscent of different wild flowers. The term is usually applied to white wines such as Riesling.

fortified
Wines that have had an addition of grape spirit. These include sherry, Port, Marsala and Madeira.

frizzante
The Italian term for semi-sparkling.

generic
Sake and Vermouth are the only two generic wines recognized by U.S. law. Consequently, the type of rice or grape used in their production does not have to be stated on the label.

grassy
Possessing aromas of hay or freshly mowed grass. Applies mostly to white wine, especially Sauvignon Blanc from cool climates.

hard
Used to describe wines that are overly acidic or tannic, have very little fruit, and are unyielding to the palate.

harsh
Describes wines that are too high in acid or tannin.

herbaceous
Having a scent of various herbs. Related to “grassy,” but applies to both red and white wines. If overdone, it gives the wine a “vegetal” character that is considered a negative trait.

hot
Describes a wine whose alcohol level is so high that it stands out from the other components. This negative trait is perceived primarily on the back palate and in the finish.

icewine (Eiswein)
A sweet dessert wine made with handpicked frozen grapes.

late harvest
Refers to grapes that are harvested well after they are deemed ripe, yielding highly concentrated sugar levels.

leathery
Refers to the aroma found in many well-aged wines from various parts of the world.

lees
The spent yeast cells and solid materials that settle to the bottom of the vat or barrel during the winemaking process.

legs or tears
The rivulets that creep down the inside of a glass after the wine has been swirled. They are not indicators of quality, but are rather the interaction of water and alcohol molecules.

length
Refers to the amount of time the flavors linger on the palate after the wine is spat out or swallowed.

malolactic fermentation
A process by which tart malic acid is converted to softer lactic acid through the action of bacteria. This technique is very common in the production of red wines.

massive
Refers to a wine of great power, concentration of flavor, persistence and length.

Meritage
A trademarked term to describe Bordeaux-style blends made primarily in California. It rhymes with heritage.

méthode champenoise
French term for the traditional bottle-fermentation method of producing sparkling wine, developed in the region of Champagne.

mouth feel
The tactile impression of the wine in the mouth and on the palate.

must
The fermenting (or soon to be fermenting) grape juice and all of the solid material, such as skins, stems or pulp, produced by pressing.

musty
Describes the moldy, damp basement smell or taste associated with cork taint.

noble rot
The form of Botrytis bunch rot that ultimately creates dessert wines of unparalleled renown. The mold shrivels the grape, thereby concentrating sugars and flavor. The signature of noble rot is the unmistakable honeyed quality of the finished wines.

nose
A synonym for aroma or bouquet.

nutty
Describes the aroma or flavor of nuts, which can be either general or specific. This is often found in old tawny Ports or sherries and will sometimes be a component of dry whites.

oaky
Refers to the scent and flavor imparted by the oak barrels used in aging. This characteristic is easy to discern in some Chardonnays.

oxidized
The color or flavor change of a wine caused by direct contact with air.

pétillant
A French word meaning lightly sparkling.

proprietary blend
Used to define legal ownership of a specific blend of specific grapes.

puckery
Describes the sensation in the mouth caused by very tannic wines.

racking
The process of separating the fermented grape juice from the lees.

racy
Term to describe very young wines that are bright, bouncy and full of life.

Reserve (in U.S.)
This term has no legal definition in the U.S., and should be seen as just a marketing term.

rich
Characterizes wines that are bursting with flavor and have a rounded depth.

riddling
A step in the traditional method of sparkling wine production. The bottle is slowly rotated so as to capture the lees sediment in the neck of the bottle and facilitate its removal.

round
Refers to wines that are full yet soft, with no rough edges. This trait will come across as “creaminess” in white wines.

rustic
A tasting term signifying a wine that is lacking in sophistication. This trait is not necessarily a bad thing. It can also be used as a marketing term for wines made by traditional or old-fashioned methods.

sediment
Solid material that has settled to the bottom of any wine container. The term is especially used in reference to bottles.

semi-generic
The term used to describe American wines named for famous regions of other countries. Examples include: Burgundy, Chablis or Rhine.

smoky
Possessing an aroma of smoke or charred wood imparted by heavily toasted oak barrels.

soft
Describes a wine that lacks hard edges because it is low in acidity and/or tannin.

sparkling
Term for a wine that has undergone a secondary fermentation producing carbon dioxide that dissolves into the wine. When the bottle is opened the gas is released, creating the bubbles that make this wine famous.

spicy
Characterized by scents of various spices. Examples range from the orange blossom, honeysuckle and Oriental spices of an Alsatian Gewürztraminer to the black pepper spices found in Zinfandel.

spumante
The Italian word for sparkling.

structure
The framework of the wine. If all components of the wine seem held together firmly, the wine is said to have a tight structure. A useful analogy might be the binding of a book.

supple
A tasting term used to describe the mouth feel of a wine that is round and smooth, with no hard edges of acid or tannin.

sur lie aging
A winemaking technique in which the fermented wine is allowed to sit upon its lees for a predetermined amount of time. This imparts additional flavor and texture to the finished wine.

sweet
Term for wine in which some of the natural grape sugar is left unfermented.

table wine
An unfortified wine purposely made for everyday drinking. The term is legally defined with restrictions in some countries.

tannin
One of the key compounds in wine, derived from the skin, seeds and stems. Tannin can also be imparted from the barrels used in the winemaking process. It is what makes your mouth pucker when you drink some red wines.

tarry
Ever drive by a road crew that was laying down fresh tar on a hot summer day? That smell is echoed in certain red wines, such as Barolo, and is considered a positive trait.

tart
Describes a sour taste in wine that is usually derived from the acid level. It is desirable in some wines, such as Sauvignon Blanc.

tears
See legs.

terroir
The word used for the French concept of the influence of the place where the grapes are grown on the finished product. Elements of terroir include the soil, topography and climate.

thin
A wine with very little body or depth of flavor.

toast
An effect caused by a heating process applied to oak barrels used in winemaking. It is similar to the char found in barrels used to make whiskey. The toast of the barrel acts as a barrier between the wine and the wood. A lightly toasted barrel will provide more wood influence in the finished wine than one with a darker toast.

toasty
Describes the wonderful smell of freshly made buttered toast that is particularly prominent in French Champagne.

vanilla
Describes the vanilla aroma often found in red wines, or in whites aged in new oak barrels.

varietal
Term for a wine made wholly or predominantly from the grape name appearing on the label.

vegetal
Associated with flavors or aromas suggestive of plants. Small amounts of these can often be attributed to varietal characteristics. When apparent in large amounts, however, they are often the result of utilizing underripe grapes and are considered to be a negative trait.

velvety
Describes a tactile impression rather than a taste that is usually perceived in the finish. Applies to wines that are quite lush and ultra-smooth. Classic examples of velvety wines are Amarone and Pinot Noir.

violets
Captivating bouquet found in young reds from many areas, especially the northern Rhône, Bordeaux and northern Italy.

volatile
A tasting term used to describe a wine with too much acetic acid.

youth or young
Relates to the age, or lack thereof, of the wine.

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